Remembrance Sunday: Public Gathering or Private Gratitude?

by Bruce Gillingham

W e have only lived in Church Street for six years, but in that time we have come to welcome and respect the gathering of young and old in procession on Remembrance Sunday to parade and pause in silent memory at the War Memorial in St Mary's Churchyard . All sections of the community are represented by their uniformed groups: the armed forces, the emergency services, and the youth organisations. There is something timeless about the sound of the bugle, the lowering of the flags, and the poetic words of remembrance . We are united across the years in the sound of silence.

But this time, on Sunday 8th November 2020 in Kidlington, we learn that there will be no open-air parade, no annual procession, no public prayers on Remembrance Sunday . All because of Covid-19. Church Street will stay strangely silent this year, for the first time ever. We cannot take unnecessary risks with public health.

Some may say that the time has naturally come to say farewell to public gatherings which recall foreign wars in distant lands. The list of those still alive when World War II was fought is growing shorter. Those old comrades who wish to gather here or at cemeteries abroad can do so in their own time. Perhaps we should forget the horrors of past wars and focus on the future, and the building of peace in our time. Perhaps we should face up together to new enemies of Coronavirus Challenges and Climate Change.

But I for one will miss the parade down our street. Am I just old fashioned ? I have been brought up to cherish our public freedoms and to count the personal cost. My grandfather was an Army Chaplain in France on the Western Front in the First World War. My father served as a Naval Chaplain on the Russian Convoys in the Second World War. And I remember participating in the united parades of the Royal Navy, The Army, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Marines under the statue of Francis Drake on Plymouth Hoe as a young Curate at St Andrew's Church in Plymouth.

Is this just nostalgia? Are we still stuck in history when Britain had a role in world affairs and an influence in keeping world peace? Or is there value in pausing to reflect on our democratic way of life and not taking it for granted? We have been used to wearing our poppies with pride, to laying a wreath in remembrance of the fallen. We unite as a nation in the ceremonies of remembrance held indoors on the Saturday evening in the Royal Albert Hall, and on the Sunday morning in chill air and autumnal light at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Public gathering is forced to give way to private gratitude. So on Remembrance Sunday 2020, can we each find a more personal way to give thanks for our cherished freedoms? It would be good if we can observe the two minute silence at 11.00am wherever we are. Maybe we can each find a photo at home of someone in the family we remember with pride and thanksgiving, who served with distinction, who did their duty, who gave their lives in war that we may live in peace. Maybe you can visit the Memorial Cross in St Mary's Churchyard on your own, in your own time, with your own thoughts and prayers, for yesterday and tomorrow. Wear a poppy, and we in Church Street will notice you.

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."

"When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow, we gave our today."

Rev Canon Bruce Gillingham is a resident of Kidlington village, Oxfordshire.

Photograph of St. Mary's Memorial Kidlington 2018 courtesy of Gosford & Water Eaton Parish Council.

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